Hot-Tub Time Machine

A shoulder-season Plan B.

Spring can be a rough time for recreating in Montana. Inevitably, you wake up to a day when the snow is trashed, the mountain biking is muddy, the fish aren’t biting, and the rock is too wet to climb. Try as we might to play in the shoulder seasons, Montanans know it’s always good to have a backup plan—and nothing says solid backup like a soak in a natural hot springs. Lucky for us, Boulder Hot Springs is less than an hour and a half away, providing deep history, a remote location, and just enough weirdness to be the perfect Bozeman daytrip.

Driving north on Hwy. 69, you’re treated to the standard Montana scenery: cows, ranch house, cows, bridge over a river; mountains in the distance, more cows. Then, rising out of the CM Russell–painting of a landscape, a massive, red-hued Spanish-mission-style building catches your eye. Your first thought will likely be, “This place is sort of weird.” Grab your swim trunks and towel anyway, remember how bad the mountain biking was, and get ready for the real adventure of the day.

A History of Healing Waters
The Peace Valley has been known for its healing mineral waters since before European settlement. The first buildings, erected in 1863, included a saloon, bathhouse, and small hotel. The hotel expanded and changed hands throughout the late 1800s until 1909, when it was bought by Butte millionaire James Murray. Murray, with a flair for the extravagant and a taste for California architecture, hired a New York interior designer and added the arches and fountains that give the current building its misplaced-but-fascinating Spanish stucco flair. After the raucous 1920s and 1930s, the hotel again changed hands, becoming dude-ranch-style accommodations with famous Saturday-night smorgasbord buffets. The place is now on the National Historic Register and has been owned, since the early 1990s, by Anne Wilson Schaef. 

No Beer! No Problem?
Despite Boulder Hot Springs’ gambling, salooning, and partying past, the location is now an alcohol- and substance-free site. This is a nod to the hot springs’ history as a place of healing and the valley’s history as a “no-hostility zone,” according to Schaef. In the late 1890s, the Keeley Cure (injections thought to “cure” alcoholism) was practiced at the hot springs. Today, the site practices a charming brand of back-road abstinence with phrases on their website like “We hope to create a place of retreat, rejuvenation, and healing where all will feel that they have come home, and can come home to themselves." Regardless of your substance opinions, the springs are hot and clean and the bathhouse and steam room layout offer a unique and more reflective experience compared to other local hot spring favorites like Chico or Norris.

This spring, try for that day of mountain biking at Lewis and Clark Caverns or a hike in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest nearby. And when, after 30 minutes of postholing through ankle-deep snow-crust, you decide to turn around, Boulder Hot Springs will be ready for you.